2016 New England Auto Show

Yesterday Zach and I went to the New England Auto Show at the Boston Convention Center. it was right next door to Arisia, so we thought “what the heck, lets take an hour or two to go look at shiny cars.” He’d never been to a commercial car show before, so we trundled over.

2016-01-1717.jpgOn the way in, we ran the usual gauntlet of free coupons, surveys, and other marketing nitwits. The line to buy tickets was super-fast (literally walked right up to the next person selling), but someone had already stopped me in line “Hey, I bought an extra, want mine?” er…. sure! That was $15 not spent.

Once on the show floor it was acres and acres of carpeting with shiny cars and trucks parked on them. I realized quickly that Zach knew more about modern car lines than I did, so I let him identify some things. I helped out with things like “Yes, that really is a Bentley, and yes, they really do cost a quarter million dollars, and no, I can’t tell you why.”

There were some important wins that made the show worth while. I was able to look at the 2016 Volt, and in particular, whether I could fit in it (spoiler: yup). I also love that Chevy redesigned the Volt’s center console, which was a mess. That plus the new battery layout and longer range (about 53 miles on battery, as opposed to the 41-ish I get with my 2015) makes me want to see about changing my lease over.

Two other high points of the show. Zach has decided that his dream car is the Mazda MX-5 Miata. I’ll admit that when it first came out as the Miata 25 years ago, I was pretty taken with it. No way I could sit in it though. 2016-01-1715.jpgZach had never had the opportunity to ‘try one on for size’, so now was our chance. He fit! The soft top closed comfortably over him, and he was over the moon. If you’re going to be in love with a car, at least he’s picking a stylish, not stupidly over the moon expensive one.

The one other bit of fun we had was Zach was able to climb into a real live Modified-class track racecar. We were gaping at it when the owner said “Want to try it on for size?” “Not me”, I said, “But could he try?” I pointed to Zach and he said “heck yeah!”. So after some wriggling in through the window, he socketed into the drivers seat (which was conveniently sized about right for him), and he got a feel for what real racecars feel like.

All in all, a nice 2 hours spent with my son geeking about cars. For me, it was also a chance to try out my lovely new Canon 11-16mm ultra wide angle lens. Here’s the full gallery. This was my first time doing any decent work with such a short focal length, and I was pleasantly surprised with the results. I like it!

Visualizing Content Flow on Social Media

About two years ago, I re-launched this blog. Since then it’s become my primary “I gots stuff to say” mechanism. For quite a while I hoped Google Plus would reign supreme, but it’s become readily apparent that platform is buckling via “Death from a Thousand Cuts.” Google is destroying any hope it had of dethroning Facebook one feature at a time..

Realizing that, I put more effort into making Planet Geek my main sounding platform. I re-launched the site, imported all the old content into it, gave it a facelift, and started writing again. Sadly, with the most popular services not supporting RSS, just having the blog there means many people I’d like to keep in touch with simply won’t ever see the content. I needed a way to stay in touch with my friends, family, and social connections, without having to repost the same thing over and over and over again.

By far the industry leader is Facebook. I briefly considered using it as my primary soapbox, but I just can’t bring myself to subscribe to their “We will capture all the content, all the clicks, and all the users, and share none of it outside our walled garden” approach to media. The final straw is their constant tweaking of “We will only show you what we think you should see” (more rants on this in another post). So, no Facebook for me… so where should I go?

In the end, with respect to which social media platform I should settle on, I’ve chosen none of them, and all of them.

Planet-geek, running WordPress, is my go-to platform. I do 99% of my writing here, and whatever writing I have that passes for “creativity” is created using WordPress content tools. But that isn’t enough, is it? Our online social circles are fragmented and isolated. One group lives on Facebook, another lives on Livejournal, some are still on Plus, etc etc.  They would never see the posts unless I manually reposted either the entire article or direct links to everything I write.

socialmediaflow
Visualization of Social Medi

There’s no way to cover all the bases, so I’ve done the next best thing. I chose carefully where I create and publish content, but I’ve also built links that automatically share, if not the entire content, at least a notification to all the media channels I want to reach. I have to shout out to Nextscript’s SNAP tool for making this as painless as possible. SNAP (Social Network Automatic Poster) can link my blog to just about every social network out there. I’ve set up many links, and the tool works flawlessly.

But I do create content in other places. My photography needs a creative channel, and WordPress just isn’t the tool for it. So, Flickr and Instagram come into play. Wait, but sometimes I post to Twitter directly, what about that? Yeah, okay, that’s there too.  Fortunately, many of these sites (unlike Facebook) allow for external notification / sharing of content.  If I post a picture to Flickr, it has an automatic notification mechanism to Facebook.  Instagram does the same thing.  Sadly, Google Plus has none of these tools, and also has no easy API for posting content, so it tends to be the last thing updated (I need to do it by hand).

Thinking about this, I realized that my ‘communication flow’ would make a nice visual. The graphic above is a map of the public sites I use for social media / interaction. I’ve deliberately left off chat systems and email (I use IRC, Slack, Hangouts, Skype, and of course Email). For the most part, all these services notify me back via Email, so in theory, I should be able to just watch my inbox for interactions. A lot of times that doesn’t work so well.  Still working on that part!

This was a fun chart to put together. It shows the results of months of tool configuration, auto-linking, loop detection (yeah, don’t set up auto-posters to one service that is auto-posting back to the original), etc.

Am I missing anything? Let me know… er, on the blog if you can. 🙂

Holiday Giftings – Thinking it through

As we slide down the last stages of the gifting season, I feel it’s a good time to step back and take a meta-approach to what’s around us. For me, that means taking a look at my friends, family, relationships, and community and getting a feel for how we’re doing in relation to the rest of the world..

Traditional gift-giving has always been an oddity to me. Giving ‘things’ to other people in the past was special and heartfelt. I have wonderful memories of a childhood full of delight on Christmas morning (yes, we did Christmas, don’t ask) – and opening up gifts and things that were magical and special. But in this modern world, where everything and anything you could ever want is an amazon- or ebay-click away, what’s the point of buying something online, having it Prime shipped, and handing it to someone right next to you? “I clicked this mouse button just for you.”

Further, I have to recognize that I am in a privileged position in a wealthy society. I’m on the “benefitted” side of almost every metric. I’m white, living in an affluent part of the US, and full-time employed. I’m healthy, tall, and male. I live in a safe, strong, wonderful community. I don’t really need ‘things’, and most of my family doesn’t either.

But there are plenty of people in the world who DO need things, and there are plenty of places and needs that could do a lot more with that $100 I was going to spend on a smartwatch. So I thought I’d post today talking about the things I’m doing with that privilege to make the world a better place for others.

Lets start with the easiest, and, for me, most stark indication of inequality and unfairness. I am constantly horrified that, in this modern world, and in particular the US, one of the richest nations on earth, that people go hungry. And despite what certain political factions say, they are not hungry from laziness or indifference. They go hungry because affluent societies like America look down on those who are unable to provide for themselves and their families, no matter what the reason. I can’t fix our culture, but I can make food as available as possible to those who need it.

I used Charity Navigator to select an organization that is highly ranked at turning contributions into meals for people who need it. I chose Feeding America and set up a monthly donation. For what is essentially the cost of a dinner out for me, I’m giving 361 meals, per month, to people who need them. Talk about underlining disparities.

After that, I targeted organizations I feel are doing work that is important for our culture and society.

  • EFF – Electronic Frontier Foundation
    Right from their mission statement: “EFF champions user privacy, free expression, and innovation through impact litigation, policy analysis, grassroots activism, and technology development. We work to ensure that rights and freedoms are enhanced and protected as our use of technology grows.” They are the people countering the fear-speak so prevalent in government circles.
  • Freedom From Religion Foundation
    Religion in politics is a poison. It skews logic and clear thought into ideology and dogma. Separation of church and state is a critical core concept that needs defenders.
  • National Public Radio
    The last 20 years have seen news organizations corrupted into silos of spin and commercialism. The network news programs that presented well thought out stories (such as 60 minutes – and even they got things wrong sometimes) are gone. NPR is the only balanced, sane news source left.

Are these all the groups that need support? Not even remotely. There are hundreds of thousands of organizations out there that can benefit from donationst. But for me, donating to these groups does far more good in the world than the latest gadget from Best Buy could ever do.

Soylent – An update.

It’s been a while since I posted an update in my experimentation with Soylent as a food substitute, so here’s what’s new.

The biggest change is that Soylent has released what they’ve dubbed “Soylent 2.0” – this is a premixed version that comes in 12oz-ish bottles. The mix has been revised to be smoother, creamier, and has lost much of the ‘grainy’ issues that were in previous versions.

Soylent 2.0
Soylent 2.0
I still have a box or two of 1.5, the last version of the powder form (which Soylent has said they will continue to produce). That’s handy when I know I’m going to do an entire weekend worth of work, and want to be able to top off at any time.

The new handheld bottles sure are convenient, and I’ve taken to tossing one in my backpack as my ‘snack food’ for when I’m out and about. The new mix doesnt’ have the strong need to be refrigerated that the powder did – in fact, it seems just fine at room temperature.

My usage goes in cycles. Some weeks I’ll do 10 meals purely on Soylent. Other times I’ll go an entire week without having any. It really depends on where I am and how busy things are. For example, I’ve been home sick the last 2 days, and having ready-to-consume food right at hand has been super-helpful.

It’s a little odd to toss away a plastic bottle after every use. Granted the bottles are as recyclable as they can get, but I somewhat enjoyed the “I’ve had 3 meals from this bag of powder, and I’m throwing away one small bag”. Yes, us americans have been hard wired to place ‘tossing out a plastic bottle’ in the same category as ‘stepping on kittens’. So it’s a hard feeling to shake.

Sick.

Colds suck. Colds that aren’t really colds but just make your life uncomfortable suck. Colds that aren’t sniffly, but just something sitting in your throat making you sound like James Earl Jones suck… well, okay, the JEJ part doesn’t suck that much… kinda cool actually.

This has been rattling around since last Wednesday (5 days now). I’m at work, but have the energy of an overweight cat on a midsummer day. Just wanna lie around and meh.

Hopefully I’ll be back to full functionality soon. This cold has the weird pattern of a) I’m sleeping really well at night, and b) I want to eat CONSTANTLY. The latter is both good and bad. Good because I have an appetite and it makes me feel good when I eat. Bad because, well, yesterday I ate half a box of donuts. Hmm.

I’d like to be better soon, plz.

Retreating a bit from the world

I’m going to be pulling back from social media, particularly Facebook, for a while. The level of bigotry, hate, willfull ignorance, and just flat out stupidity is just getting to be too much. I found myself browsing today and got depressed and furious at the same time. Not only in government, but also in people I thought knew better. I don’t need to sit down to relax and check in, only to find a complete loss of rational, critical thought.

The entire dialog makes me very sad, and in the end, we as ordinary citizens have almost nothing we can do to change the course of government or policy. I’ll still see direct mentions or shares, but I probably won’t see general “Here’s what’s up in my life” sorts of things, so if you really want my attention on something, feel free to reach out. I’ll be using my blog to post, feel free to subscribe to it via Feedly.

Want to do something good that will directly help people in need? Support a charity. I support Feeding America, because no one should ever be hungry …

“Feeding America is the nationwide network of 200 food banks that leads the fight against hunger in the United States. Together, we provide food to more than 46 million people through 60,000 food pantries and meal programs in communities across America. Feeding America also supports programs that improve food security among the people we serve; educates the public about the problem of hunger; and advocates for legislation that protects people from going hungry. Individuals, charities, businesses and government all have a role in ending hunger. Donate. Volunteer. Advocate. Educate. Together we can solve hunger.”

Travelling to Tennessee

Over the next few days I’ll be travelling with my Mom to Knoxville, TN to visit relatives neither of us have seen in many many many years. I’m both looking forward to and nervous about this trip, as there’s lots of chances for things to go off the rails.

I hope to be tweeting fairly constantly during the trip, checking in, posting pictures, etc. Please follow me! 🙂

I’m also going to enable Facebook cross-posting from Twitter. If you’re on Facebook, hopefully whatever they use for an algorithm will allow you to see my tweets.

A Bike Tour of Boston.

Today after going to the MIT Flea with Zach I planned on taking a bike ride around Boston. The weather was supposed to be excellent, and I had 6 hours or so to kill until Mariama came into town for her Gymnastics class, so why not bring the bike along, pack up the camera, and just explore?

So explore I did. Ended up being about 8.5 miles of riding, over 5.5 hours. The Gmaps Pedometer map shows my route, starting on Albany street in Cambridge, going all the way to the harbor and back.

I set a very leisurely pace, stopping often to take pictures, admire the area, whatever. The weather was fantastic – I had brought a sweatshirt, but came nowhere near needing it. Stopped in at City Hall Plaza, where there was apparently a big bike event called “Hub On Wheels“. Fellow I ran into said there were thousands of riders in the event, must have been quite a show!

There was a big natural / home grown food festival happening on the greenway – was too crowded so didn’t spend much time there, and some very progressive something or other happening on the Common. There was a loud and well attended poetry reading going on – I didn’t stay to listen.

dave at rowes wharf
A great day for a bikeride.

Have to give thanks to Cambridge Bicycle. They opened at 11am (had to wait 10 minutes or so), and had a take-off seat for me that replaced my old, very worn, and far too narrow old seat. After adjusting my rubbing front fender, I rode the rest of the time just fine.

Lots and lots of pictures coming, but here’s me at Rowed Wharf – just to show I really did make it all the way over there.

I wouldn’t mind doing this with other people sometime. The number of events, festivals, and outdoor activities I ran into was amazing. Anyone interested?

Life, Camping, Drones, Travel!

The last week or two has been quite the whirlwind, and we’re not through yet!

I’m about to head off to Pawtuckaway Lake in New Hampshire to go camping with friends for 4 days, so don’t expect any screamingly exciting updates from me for a bit.

Last week’s adventure at NAFPV2015 was a blast – I’ve posted an update with pictures over on the USDRA site (if you want to Save A Click, here’s the flickr album directly).

There’s other stuff going on, but right now I want to enjoy summer vacation, so I’ll head off. Stay tuned for more excitement… in a few days.

Off to NAFPV 2015!

For the next 4 days I’ll be in Stephentown, New York at the North American FPV Meet flyin, racin, and campin. For the most part I’ll be livetweeting on the USDRA Drone Racing twitter feed (please follow!) which will also be posting to the USDRA facebook page (please like!).

This’ll be an interesting test of going camping using Soylent as my primary food source also. The campsite where the event is has no running water and no food services, so I’m bringing a cooler, 2 days worth of premixed Soylent, plus a few snacks. We’ll see how this goes. 🙂

Race Baiting 101 by Matthew Cooke

I am continued to be amazed by the work of Matthew Cooke. His videos are clear, direct, and beautifully done. This one is particularly powerful, and, having wrestled with my place in the world regarding race, privilege, and status lately, this piece struck me pretty hard.

If you think you understand race issues, classes throughout US history, and how the we handle inequality, you should watch this, and it will either validate your positions, or enlighten you to what is happening in our country right now.

Sunday Organizing Time

I’ve always been something of a pack rat.  Before I moved to a small house, I’d have crates and boxes and shelves full of things I’d probably never use, but was cool to have on hand.  Old computers, video games, all that stuff.

2015-07-12 15.46.12Now I live in a small house, with very little storage space, and I’ve had to be a lot more frugal with what I keep around.  But, keeping active with electronics projects, drone stuff, and the like, I’m down to ‘things I need to have on hand to get stuff done’. That ended up beign stuff stored in my downstairs bathroom, on wall mounted shelving. Unfortunately, these shelves were getting cluttered and ugly, so Something Had To Be Done.

An emergency run to Five Below netted 6 rigid cloth storage boxes and 6 metal half-bins. Perfect! I cleaned out the old shelving, threw away a bunch of things I’d never need (Why did I have 30 or so ethernet patch cords and ungodly numbers of Mini USB cables?), and sorted what was left into useful categories. Photography, power supplies (I have tons of these), etc.

And, I have lots of spare space now! Next step will be painting and finishing the rest of the bathroom, now that it’s not such a clutter haven.

Zealand Falls Hut

pic of zealand pond
Click through to see the entire photo gallery.

Finally made an overnight hike to one of the AMC backcountry huts. These huts are maintained by the Appalachian Mountain Club along the Appalachian trail for hikers to visit, either on their way along the trail or as a destination all their own.  The huts are 100% off the grid, and  Zealand Falls has that added benefit of being off any cell phone service at all. I was truly ‘cut off’ from the rest of the world.

The hut crew (or ‘croo’ as they call themselves) was wonderful. They apparently are ‘on’ for 11 days out of 14, preparing meals and helping travellers as they come through. That doesn’t mean it’s a 24hr a day job. A lot of the time for them is spent on the trails themselves. Not much to do between breakfast and dinner!

This hike was the longest one I’ve done so far. 18 miles over 3 days, staying one night at Zealand Falls, and two nights at Highland Lodge. It was also my first ‘backpacking’ trip (in that I was carrying a decent pack. No cooking or overnight gear, but I had all the required bits for backcountry travel).  It’s the next logical progression for me learning how to handle myself camping and backpacking again.  My first trip to Crawford Notch did not involve overnighting away from the lodge.

So, what did I learn?  Well, a couple interesting things.

  • That whole thing about “cotton kills” and “use only synthetics?”  I’m a believer.  I didn’t get actively rained on, but I sweated a bunch and on Saturday morning had to hike through some wet brush.  I was wearing all synthetic fabrics, and never got chilled, even though I was pretty damp.
  • Never. Ever. forget the bugspray.  I brought it, wondering if I’d need it.  2 mosquito bites inside 4 minutes of hitting the trailhead had me hosing myself down with Cutter bugspray.
  • Bring something to relax with.  I didn’t have a book with me, and my cell phone was useless (as well as having poor battery life.  Remember, no power at the huts other than 2-3 hrs of light in the early evening).  I own a solar charger, so I could have worked on charging up the phone, but solar chargers / external batteries are heavy.
  • Gear needs to be good.  In this day and age where you can buy anything ‘on the cheap’ or ‘stupidly expensive because it has some famous persons name on it’, buy things that are high quality and dependable.  My waterbag (which fit into my pack) broke on the second day.  It was a cheapo knockoff.  I fortunately had a spare stainless steel bottle, but that was irritating.
  • Hiking socks are gods gift to feet.
  • When they say ‘bring earplugs’ for sleeping in the huts, they ain’t kidding.  One guy in my area was like the sleep apnea poster child.  *shudder*
  • I continue to be impressed at the quality of AMC’s food and offerings.  Breakfast and dinner were excellent.
  • Chocolate chip Clif bars are the best lunchtime backpacking food ever.
  • Hiking / Trekking poles.  First time I’ve used them for any extended period of time.  I sort of surprised myself finding that carrying them both in one hand during the flat / open trails worked just fine (and I saw several other hikers do this).  But having them for the clambering up and down climbs, as well as crossing water and mud?  Totally worth it.  I also had NONE of the ‘numb / bloated hands’ problems I’ve had in the past.  Worth it.
  • I wrestled hard about whether to bring my Canon camera with me, and in the end decided against it.  If things got super-wet, I couldn’t guarantee I’d keep it dry, and it was just too much weight.  I took photos with my cell phone while on the trail, and then hauled out the SLR when I got back on Saturday.

I’m ready to go back.  There’s a few more hut trips planned with friends through the summer.  I’m really looking forward to it.

 

You Should Be Standing At Your Desk 2-4 Hours a Day

standup desk
My standup desk

Hah!  I am vindicated!!!

Experts now say you should start standing up at work for at least two hours a day — and work your way toward four.

That’s a long-awaited answer for a growing number of workers who may have heard of the terrible health effects of prolonged sitting and been wondering whether they should buy standing desks or treadmill desks.

Today, the average office worker sits for about 10 hours, first all those hours in front of the computer, plowing through e-mails, making calls or writing proposals — and eating lunch. And then all those hours of sitting in front of the TV or surfing the Web at home.

My normal schedule has me standing 4-5 hours a day, interspersed with meetings, lunch, things like that.  But I’ll try and get an hour, maybe 2 hours of sit down time in the late afternoon.